The Maldives is and independent republic (formerly a sultanate) in the Indian Ocean, compromising an archipelago of 188 inhabiated islands, out of 1190 islands set in 26 natural atolls. The English word “atoll” derives from Dhivehi (the language of Maldivians). ‘Atholhu’- meaning ‘ a ring shaped reef or chain of islands formed of coral’
The islands stretch like a garland for 822km from 7 degrees north of the equator to just south of it, with the greatest width from west to east being 130km. The territory embraces a total area of 90.000 sq km but that includes the sea, which forms 99,6% of the Maldives. The land area of all the islands amounts to 298 sq. km. The nearest neighbours are Indi, 600km distant to the north and Sri Lanka, 670km to the east.
The islands are small (few are are more than one square kilometer in area) and low-lying with neither rivers nor hills, their maximum height being about 2,4m above sea level. A shallow lagoon encircles each island, embraced by reefs; beyond the reefs the ocean deepens to 365m. Male’ the capital city, lies to the north of the centre of the atoll chain and is a heavily populated island with about 140.000 people apartment and office blocks squeezed in an area of 5,8 sq km.